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New Mexico Bowl 2016: New Mexico vs. UTSA game preview

New Mexico readies for first-time bowlers University of Texas-San Antonio.

NCAA Football: Gildan New Mexico Bowl-UTSA vs New Mexico Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Reflecting back on the 2016 season, there were moments when I wasn’t sure that New Mexico would make it to a bowl game. Call me a hater if you will, but New Mexico was less than convincing coming out of the gate with losses against arch-nemesis New Mexico State, Rutgers, and a blowout loss at home against Boise State in three of the first five weeks.

And then it happened. Five straight wins that included four impressive conference victories against Air Force, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah State. They capped off the regular season with a 56-35 statement win against Wyoming. Just like that, UNM finished with their best season since 2007 when they went 9-4. Any doubts, for the time being, have been cast aside to celebrate a great season that included a third place finish in the Mountain West Conference. As the Lobos march into the New Mexico Bowl, they have a chance to tie that 9-4 record if they can defeat the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners.

What stands between New Mexico and a 9-4 record? A scrappy 6-6 UTSA team that played its inaugural season in 2011. The team has made great strides in five short years and are now playing in their first bowl game under first-year head coach Frank Wilson. With impressive wins over Rice, Middle Tennessee, and North Texas, the Roadrunners are not a team to be taken lightly.

UTSA gets it done on both sides of the ball. Their offense is well-balanced. Dalton Sturm is a super efficient quarterback who rarely throws an interception in an offense set up for short throws. Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes each ran for over 750 yards on the season. But in this contest, they’ll have a tough Lobos defense whose best players are built to stop the run. Josh Stewart and Kerry Thomas Jr. are two tall targets at wide receiver who have had a major impact on the offense. UNM’s secondary, which has struggled against tall receivers, could have their hands full if the Roadrunners look to exploit those match-ups.

But make no mistake about it, for the Roadrunners to win this game, they will have to stop UNM’s triple-option offense. UTSA was 52nd in the nation in rush defense, only allowing 158 years per game, but the Lobos’ running backs are on a whole other level. Few teams have slowed down New Mexico this season and the Lobos are the top rushing team in the nation with 361 yards per game. Head coach Bob Davie won’t try to reinvent the wheel in the final game of the season so we can expect heavy doses of Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Owens taking the Lobos down the field and Richard McQuarley forcing his way in from inside the ten. Whether Lamar Jordan or Austin Apodaca are in at quarterback, the Lobos will run, run, and run some more.

Throw in the home-field advantage and this is the Lobos’ game to lose. And lose they shall not. I fully expect New Mexico to win their first bowl game since 2007.

As for the weather, expect a cloudy and chilly 43 degree-day. Game coverage begins at noon mountain time on ESPN.